Monotub Cultivation Tek/Method Walk-Through
The monotub tek or method is where most professional indoor mushroom cultivators get their start. It’s easy, fast, and doesn’t take up much space or require high-tech humidity or ventilation systems.
The monotub method is most often associated with the cultivation of manure loving Psilocybe* species such as P. Cubensis but can also be used to grow edible species of manure loving Agaricus or Shaggy mane mushroom (Coprinus comatus). Switch out that bulk substrate from manure based to hardwood based wood chips and you can grow your oyster mushrooms of the Pleurotus family, Wine Caps, and Namekos.
The potential for innovating and creating new mushroom growing techniques utilizing monotubs is endless.
So what do you need to start growing?
- Culture or spore syringe and injection port bag or fully colonized grain spawn
- Tupperware plastic bin such as those made by Sterilite
- Black spray paint (if your plastic bin is clear) or an opaque black contractor bag
- Gorilla Tape or equivalent
- Hand drill with a 2 inch hole saw
- Bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol
- Latex gloves
- Two spray bottles, one for alcohol and one for water
- Bulk substrate: wood chips for wood loving species or manure based substrate
These are optional upgrades to your monotub as featured in video-
- Fan for air flow
- Cycle timer
- Fogger / humidifier with flexible hose
- Humidity regulator
- LED light bar
Let’s break down the process in steps:
1) Make or purchase mushroom grain spawn
First off you’ll need mushroom grain spawn colonizing and getting ready to be used in your tub. Grain spawn is sterilized grain that has been fully colonized with mushroom mycelium. It’s the equivalent of seeds for mushroom growers.
There are a number of different options for procuring mushroom grain spawn. If you are growing any common edible species of mushroom you can buy fully colonized grain spawn, just keep in mind that the substrate you’ll put into your monotub will change depending on the species you choose.
If you plan to grow other dung loving species of mushroom that aren’t commonly available on pre-colonized grain spawn you’ll need to make your own*. To do that, you’ll need one of these sterilized grain bags with an injection port
The bags are filled with sterilized and hydrated millet. The bags themselves have a self-healing injection port meant to work in tandem with a spore or culture syringe. Spore syringes can be purchased online from our website here* Be aware that although hallucinogenic mushroom spores are legal in most jurisdictions in the United States for microscopy use (studying them under a microscope) the millisecond they form hyphae and become mushroom spawn or mycelium or are used with intent to cultivate mushrooms they become illegal. Hallucinogenic mushroom spores themselves are illegal in a number of U.S states including the state of California. Be aware of the legality in your place or residence!
Edible mushroom cultures in liquid form used to grow oyster mushrooms, nameko, or wine caps can be bought from a wide variety of sites. North Spore doesn’t currently produce them, though we do sell colonized grain spawn of those fully legal and edible species!
To use the injection port grain bags simply inject 2.5ml of spore syringe through the port in a sterile (or at the very least impeccably clean) location. Make sure to sterilize your hands, the syringe needle, injection port bag, and inoculation surface with rubbing alcohol. Wear latex gloves. Make sure to inspect the bag for any micro tears or contamination. Any tear in the bag will compromise its sterility. If you’ve ordered your sterilized grain bag online, it is best practice to wait one or two weeks before injecting it to make sure that it wasn’t damaged in transit. If it contaminates (usually green mold will start growing in damaged bags) discard the bag and contact your supplier for a replacement. Allow your bag to colonize in a cool location out of direct sunlight. Temperature for incubation shouldn’t exceed 75 degrees F or dip below 55 degrees. After a couple weeks or so you should start to see mycelium growing on the grain.
You’ll notice the white mycelium growing outward from the injection point. When it has grown three to four inches you should, without opening the bag, carefully break up the colonized grain and mix it into the uncolonized grain. This will dramatically speed up the colonization process.
When the bag is completely white with mycelium your spawn is ready to use. This may take a couple weeks to a month or more depending on the species and vigor of your culture.
2) Make or purchase your bulk substrate
Your bulk substrate formulation will depend greatly on what species of mushroom you are growing in your tubs. If you are growing edible wood loving species you’ll need to track down wood chips that are made up of mostly hardwood species such as oak or maple wood. If you are growing manure loving species continue reading!
We recommend our In House Substrate product for any manure loving species. It’s easy to use, already cooked and sterilized, and is a formulation perfected over many years of Agaricus trials. It will save you the hassle of tracking down your own ingredients and cooking horse poo at home…
If you decide to make your own manure substrate blend the easiest formulation is 50% coco coir and 50% horse manure. Coco coir can be purchased by the bag from most grow shops specializing in hydroponic or urban gardening. The best horse manure will have to be sourced from farms that board horses, offer riding lessons, etc. Best is manure that has been composted for at least 6 months.
At this point you can either pasteurize your bulk substrate by cooking it in an oven or steaming it. You’ll need to mix the two ingredients together and hydrate the mixture to ‘field capacity.’ If you grab a handful of the substrate and squeeze it as hard as you can you should be able to get one or two drops of water to drip out. More than that and the mixture is over-hydrated: add more coco coir. If it is under hydrated add water little by little and continue to test it.
For the oven method just preheat it to 170 degrees and cook the bulk substrate on baking pans with a tinfoil cover for at least 2.5 hours.
To use the steam method, bag the substrate in filter patch bags and cook it in a pressure cooker or steam it until it reaches around 160-180 degrees F.
Allow your bulk substrate to cool completely before using it!
*Since first making this article and its corresponding video walkthrough, we’ve learned that it is better to use a liner than to spray-paint the outside of your monotub. As your bulk substrate colonizes with mushroom mycelium, it will pull away from the sides of your monotub but still cling to your liner. This prevents the monotub from forming microclimates suitable to side pinning. Consensus is that light proofing the lower half of your monotub is not necessary, though we’ve found that it does marginally help prevent side pins.
- Purchase the bin of your choice. Make sure that you get a lid with it!
- *Optional* If your bin is clear, paint the outside of the lower half
- Use a hand drill outfitted with a two inch hole-saw (a modified drill bit for making larger holes). Drill holes around the outside of the monotub, running the drill in reverse can prevent the plastic from cracking. One hole every eight inches of length should be adequate with at least one hole on each end of the monotub. You want your holes to be just above the bulk substrate that you’ll be filling the monotub with, just above your liner or part of the tub that is painted.
- Fill the holes with poly-fil. This will allow the substrate to breathe while limiting any particulates in the air from entering your tub. We used Gorilla Tape to seal the the poly-fil so it doesn’t pop out, though this isn’t necessary.
- If you’re using a contractor bag liner, fold the bag so that the bag fits snugly into your monotub and the top of the liner is about halfway up the side of your monotub. This is where you’ll put your bulk substrate.
Et voila! You have your monotub ready to grow mushrooms.
3) Make your monotub
There are many ways and materials you can use to make a monotub. Most frequently large Tupperware style containers are used such as those made by Sterilite. If you choose to use this type of clear plastic container you may choose to either spray paint the lower half of the monotub (on the outside of the bin) with opaque black paint as we did in the video, or line the bin with a contractor bag to block out light. Both methods help prevent mushrooms from growing on the sides or bottom of your tub. The mushrooms that grow this way are nearly impossible to harvest yet will use up valuable nutrients and energy from from your substrate. Best to keep them from growing in the first place and allow the mycelium to put all its energy into creating mushrooms in easily harvestable parts of the tub.
4) Sterilize your working space and monotub
This is a very very important step! You want to make sure you give your mushroom culture every advantage possible. Put some rubbing alcohol into a spray bottle and sterilize your entire tub. Spray your hands, your working surface, any scissors you might use to cut your spawn bag open etc.
Spray the outside of your spawn bag and your bulk substrate bags and rub the alcohol around the entire bag.
Make sure the room that you are inoculating in is clean! If you have pets make sure the room has been recently vacuumed (although not so recently vacuumed that there may be air turbulence or particulate matter floating around!)
Close windows. Close doors. Be paranoid about contamination.
5) Load your bulk substrate into the monotub and inoculate it
Now for the fun part! The amount of bulk substrate and spawn you use will be dependent on the size of your monotub. You want to have 3-5 inches of substrate. One 3lb injection port bag should readily inoculate one or two moderate sized tubs.
You want to start by sprinkling about one inch of bulk substrate into your sterilized monotub, or in the liner if you’re using one. Make sure your bulk substrate is still at field capacity (see if you can squeeze out a couple drops of water from it!) If it dried out during pasteurization you’ll need to add sterilized water to the blend as your fill your tub.
Then add a thin sprinkling of colonized grain spawn. Add another inch of substrate followed by more spawn. Keep sandwiching spawn in layers of bulk substrate until you’ve reached your desired depth.
Make sure the lid to your monotub is also sterilized with rubbing alcohol.
For good measure use a paper towel with more rubbing alcohol and wipe down the sides of the monotub just above the inoculated bulk substrate.
Put the lid on your monotub and don’t remove it again until the monotub is fully colonized!
Keep the monotub someplace warm, but not hot, and out of direct sunlight but with some ambient light present.
6) Watch the bin for signs of being fully colonized
Check on your bin daily to watch it colonize. You’ll see white spots start to expand from each point of grain spawn. Over time they will completely cover the surface of the bulk substrate. You should see small droplets of mushroom exudate. This is natural and a sign of proper hydration and a speedy colonization.
You want to look for the signs of pinning mushrooms. This usually looks like white hyphae growing pinning vertically from the surface of the substrate and forming little knots of dense white mycelium.
Tubs will take 2-3 weeks to fully colonize for most dung loving species. Wood loving species colonization rates will vary.
7) Case the substrate and wait for fruiting
When you start to see hyphae knots or pins you’ll want to case your monotub. You can now safely remove the lid from your bin.
Add a thin 1/2 to 1 inch casing of 100% coco coir to the bin and spray the bin with water until the casing is showing signs of being fully hydrated. Some growers recommend using vermiculite to case monotubs but new research into the connection between vermiculite mining and contamination from asbestos should give pause to this practice. Coco coir works equally as well and is a safe alternative.
Spray the tub daily with water and keep the lid of the bin slightly offset to allow a bit more oxygen flow to the tub. Make sure the bin gets some light to allow the mushrooms to grow in the correct direction. Although mushrooms don’t photosynthesize like plants do, light still helps them grow healthy and in the correct direction!
Harvest your mushrooms at the stage you desire. For most species this is before the caps have flattened out.